Looking at a list of synonyms in several different East Asian language families, I found that many languages have a similar-sounding word for "this":

  • English: This
  • Khmer: នេះ (nih)
  • Korean: 이 (i)
  • Burmese: ဤ (i)
  • Indonesian: Ini
  • Thai: นี้ (Nī̂)

Is this similarity due to word-borrowing, or does it indicate a possible genetic relationship between the Austronesian, Austroasiatic, Korean, and Tai-Kadai language families?

  • It's ni1 in Cantonese, if you want another data point. Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 9:33
  • Of course the null hypothesis is coincidence ;) But there's enough there that it could well be something. I don't know anything about these languages, but I'll be interested to read the answers.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 12:26
  • Persian (Indo-European) īn; Telugu (Dravidian) ī …
    – fdb
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 13:18

1 Answer 1


The vowel /i/ is maybe explained by sound symbolism (see also Bouba-Kiki Effect; compare also French ce ... ci "this" ce ... là "that"), also words for that often come with the vowel /a/ or a variant of it. The common consonant /n/ may indicate some linguistic connection either via inheritance or borrowing.

  • Some of these apparent cognates might be explained by the Austric language hypothesis, which is still somewhat controversial. The answer depends on whether it is possible to reconstruct the demonstrative pronoun "this" in the proto-languages for each family. Commented Mar 7, 2018 at 1:36

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